March 10, 2007

168 million for 13 solar projects

The U.S. Department of Energy on Thursday announced it will invest $168 million in 13 solar technology projects in the next three years as a move to bring down the cost of solar energy.

The U.S. government’s goal is to increase the photovoltaic solar power capacity from 240 megawatts to 2,850 megawatts by 2010. DOE estimates that such capacity would reduce the cost of solar electricity to $0.05 to $0.10 per kilowatt-hour. The current level is $0.18 to $0.23--a price that is not competitive with conventional electricity, which usually falls below $0.10 per kilowatt-hour.

Companies chosen for funding included Konarka, Solar Power, BP Solar, Miasole, Nanosolar, United Solar Ovonic, Practical Instruments, Amonix, Boeing, Dow Chemical, General Electric, Greenray, Powerlight, and SunPower.

DOE's biggest fundings are directed to companies developing thin-film technologies. Thin-film manufacturers BP Solar, Miasole, Nanosolar, and United Solar Ovonic received funding of about $20 millions each. The reason for this was the worldwide shortage of silicon that photovoltaic solar panels are made of. Thin-film companies try to make more panels with less silicon.

NASA provides some validation for Dwave Systems quantum computer

Although these are some words of support, the issues will not be decided until next year when Dwave's larger systems show that they provide speedup over classical systems for commercially interesting problems.

NASA provides some validation of Dwave Systems quantum computer claims

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration confirmed Thursday that it built a special chip used in a disputed demonstration of quantum computing in February.

NASA engineers used their experience with sub-micrometer dimensions and ultra-low temperatures to build a quantum processor for Canadian startup D-Wave Systems Inc., said Alan Kleinsasser, principal investigator in the quantum chip program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"There has been activity in MDL in quantum technology, including quantum computing, for around 10 years," Kleinsasser said. "Superconducting quantum computing technology requires devices and ultra-low [millikelvin] temperatures that are also required in much of our sensor work. A couple of years ago, D-Wave recognized that JPL is capable of producing the chips it wished to design. There is no [private] industry that can deliver such superconducting devices. So, we worked out a collaboration that produced the chips that D-Wave is currently using."

March 09, 2007

Update on Pan Starrs- Asteroid detector

Four 71-inch mirrors gathering light for Pan-STARRS would each be hooked up to what would be the four largest digital cameras ever built. The system would be able to survey the entire sky once a week, and would be able to detect asteroids as small as 1,000 feet across. They face opposition from environmentalists who want to protect Mauna Kea.

When completed in 10 or 15 years, the Pan-STARRS survey should provide decades of warning about an impending collision with an asteroid or comet, the scientists said.

The single-mirror prototype for Pan-STARRS on Haleakala, is now complete. The full 60-chip camera will be installed at the end of 2007.

the gigapixel cameras (seen above) that are used are key to the systems performance

The focal plane of each camera contains a 64 x 64 array of CCD devices, each containing approximately 600 x 600 pixels, for a total of about 1.4 gigapixels. The individual CCD cells are grouped in 8 x 8 arrays on a single silicon chip called an orthogonal transfer array (OTA) , which measures about 5 cm square. There are a total of 64 OTAs in the focal plane of each telescope.

Why so many CCDs?

- Small CCDs can be read out more quickly than large ones.
- A manufacturing defect usually cripples a single CCD. By dividing the focal plane into a large number of CCD devices we limit the damage caused by a chip faults. The ability to make good use of slightly imperfect chips results in a very large saving of both cost and manufacturing time. One of the reasons we use four cameras is to mitigate the effect of chip defects.
- Bright stars can saturate CCDs very quickly. CCDs which include a bright star image can be set to read out very fast, with no ill-effects on the neighboring CCDs.
- The CCDs all use orthogonal transfer technology (see next section) that reduces blurring by the earth's atmosphere.

Orthogonal Transfer Charge Coupled Device (OTCCD) will be used to allow for image motion compensation in the focal plane itself. During an exposure, selected bright stars have their positions rapidly monitored in order to calculate the immediate effects of atmospheric phase fluctuations. In a traditional "tip-tilt" adaptive optics system, these position errors are fed back to a small mirror whose angle is rapidly adjusted to compensate for the atmospheric disturbance. An OTCCD achieves the same goal by electronically shifting the image within the CCD itself rather than by moving a mirror.


There are currently about 100,000 known moving objects in our solar system that are tracked by professional astronomers. With Pan-STARRS, estimate being able to catalog up to 10 million main-belt asteroids and tens of thousands of NEOs and TNOs.

the Pan-STARRS survey will reach about 5 magnitudes (a factor of 100) fainter objects than observed by current NEO surveys.

Pan-STARRS can detect a body like Pluto out to 300 AU, Earth out to 600 AU, Neptune out to 1200 AU and Jupiter (or heavier) out to 2000 AU. PS will help resolve the question of whether there is a planet X anywhere near the existing solar system.
This pdf describes the capability of the system for finding planets in the outer solar system and competing capabilities of other telescopes. The US National Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (DMT/LSST) will be more powerful but is not expected to be done until 5 years after Pan-STARRS.

Pan-STARRS will produce the deepest and most complete survey of the Solar System so far. We expect about 100,000 Jupiter Trojans asteroids, 1,000 Centaur asteroids, and several hundred comets.

Capsule Insertable robot able to perform surgery in the body

The plastic-encased minibot, which measures 2 cm (0.8 inch) in length and 1 cm (0.4 inch) in diameter, can be maneuvered through the body by controlling an external magnetic field applied near the patient.

While other types of miniature swallowable robots have been developed in the past, their role has mostly been limited to capturing images inside the body. According to Ritsumeikan University professor Masaaki Makikawa, this new prototype robot has the ability to perform treatment inside the body, eliminating the need for surgery in some cases. The researchers developed five different kinds of prototypes with features such as image capture functions, medicine delivery systems, and tiny forceps for taking tissue samples.

3D high resolution cell image

University of Colorado have now obtained the first 3D visualisation of a complete eukaryotic cell at a resolution high enough to resolve the cytoskeleton's precise architectural plan in fission yeast. The site has a 2MB downloadable picture. Yeast cells are 2-20 microns in size. The resolution is probably down to about 5-10 nanometers.

The electron tomogram of a complete yeast cell reveals the cellular architecture. It shows plasma membrane, microtubules and light vacuoles [green], nucleus, dark vacuoles and dark vesicles [gold], mitochondria and large dark vesicles [blue] and light vesicles [pink]. Picture by Johanna Höög, EMBL

It reveals remarkable insights into the fine structure of the cytoskeleton as well as its interactions with other parts of the cell.

March 08, 2007

Zettaflop computing

Back in 2004 and 2005, the national labs looked at extreme computing frontiers An important new workshop is being organized to match the continuum of important supercomputing applications with over-the-horizon computing methods fostered by the approaching nanoscale devices and to determine the limits of practical computing imposed by the constraints of basic physics and technology. Although not asserting a particular target performance value, a roadmap for staging advances coordinated with likely technology progress will be developed that will traverse the end of the reign of transistorized microprocessors and cross in to the domain of post-transistor nanotech devices and reversible logic at the end of the next decade. But even beyond this, participants will consider the factors determining the ultimate capabilities and what technologies may enable them and the problems these supercomputers will solve.

Baseline Technologies.
Identify the physical limits of supercomputer classes in use today, such as clusters, MPPs, and other approaches, based on the principles of physics and available roadmaps.

Disruptive Technologies.
Identify other classes of computation that may succeed the baseline technologies based on:
New architectures, such as Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA), Processor in Memory (PIM), the Vector architecture (reborn), and others.
New devices capable of computing, such as RSFQ, CNFET, RTD, SET, Y-junctions, Moltronics, Quantum Dots, spintronics, and other devices of which the participants may be aware.
New ways of using devices, such as adiabatic logic design or reversible logic.

This was a pdf that looked at taking computing to the end game

A 2006 paper looking at technology on the lane to Zettaflops This looks at conventional silicon approaches to a zettaflop system based on expected 2020 roadmap capabilities. (such a system would still need an exabyte of memory at a minimum, over a gigawatt of power and insane amounts of silicon). They look at Quantum dot Cellular automata (QCA) zettaflop systems. They examine reversible computing and suggest 5 year, 2010-2015, and 2015-2025 plans. Reversible computing needs to be solved and implemented to get to reasonable power levels.

Zettaflops are a billion teraflops, a million petaflops, a thousand exaflops.

Wikipedia examines flops

Things to do with a 10 petaflop computer.

A discussion of Japan's plans for a 10 petaflop machine and then 100 petaflop and then an exaflop
The 10 petaflop timeline is a conceptual design in fiscal 2006.
- Then, a detailed design and circuit design.
- Manufacturing will start in April 2010.
- Assembly in the summer 2010
- the computer will be partially completed by March 2011.
- Partial operation will start from April 2011 along with system enhancement.
- The computer will be completed by March 2012
- It is to be in full operation from April 2012.

A speed of 10 petaflops is too slow to simulate the whole body including tissue, blood flow, and movement. We will have to continue our development towards 100-petaflop, then exaflop machines (one exa = 10 to the power of 18).

Cancer Gene progress

Futurepundit points out a Nature article about the discovery of 120 new cancer related genes The researchers used data generated by the human genome project to sift through a family of 500 genes, called kinase genes, linked to cell growth and division. Defects in some of these genes have already been linked to cancer. Using cell samples from 210 different types of cancer, they searched for mutations in the genes of these cells that are not present in those of non-cancerous cells. They found more than 1,000 cancer-specific mutations, of which around 150 are thought to be 'driver' genes, which trigger the rampant growth of cancer cells. The discovery is a significant addition to the 350 genes already known to be linked to cancer.

Cheaper and faster gene sequencing and the new methods to quickly measure hundreds of thousands of interactions between genes in parallel are enabling rapid progress in the understanding of the genetic basis for diseases of all kinds.

Hunter/Killer Robots

March 07, 2007

161 Exabytes of data generated 2006, 1 zettabyte in 2010

Media equivalence

I want to create a new term, media equivalence, for debates about the problems of civilization, technology and society. We currently have the term moral equivalence

From wikipedia, moral equivalence is a term used in political debate, usually to characterize in a negative way the claim that there can be no moral or ethical hierarchy decided between two sides in a conflict, nor in the actions or tactics of the two sides.

I propose that media equivalence be used when discussing the major problems of civilization, technology and society that it characterize in a negative way the claim that problems that are currently receiving airplay in the media are somehow equivalent to major problems (or are incorrectly linked as relevant to aspects of the debate because it is a top of the mind problem) of civilization, technology and society.

An example would be when one is talking about the sources of global electrical energy and the societal and global problem of air pollution which kills 3 million people per year (world health organization source). 85% of the global electrical power comes from fossil fuels. Someone could bring up a complaint against nuclear energy as a solution that they do not trust the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NRC will regulate and monitor the nuclear industry with the same assiduous attention to detail as the Army used at Walter Reed.
Note: the actual referenced discussion is paraphrased.

The Walter Reed incident being a current media scandal in 2007. However, this incident of some hospital rooms being in bad repair and having some cleanliness issues is nowhere near the same scale of the societal problem being discussed. No proven linkages to actual deaths caused.

The entire Iraq War is actually a much smaller problem than societal energy choices as well by many measures.

1. Iraq War is in many ways a by-product of historical energy choices.
2. Far fewer deaths per year than air pollution.
3. Likely fewer long term effects.
4. No potential for global climate change.

Walter Reed is a very small incident related to a smaller problem.

Evidence for New particle physics model

Evidence for particles beyond the standard model of physics The Next-to-minimal supersymmetric standard model seems to fit the data that has been found. We will not know for sure until about 2009 when enough data has been gathered by the new Large Hadron Collider (LHC) that start this year.

Although He and colleagues showed in an earlier paper that the HyperCP result may be explained by the SM if there is no new particle, the implications of a new particle are considerable. If scientists find that particle X is indeed a new particle belonging to a different model, the breakdown of the SM would open up new doors for future investigations in many areas, and possibly answer many questions unanswered by the SM.

”The presence of the superpartners results in the cancellation of the large quantum corrections, leading to a Higgs mass at the desired level,” he said. “The minimal version of such models is called the Minimal Supersymmetric Standard Model (MSSM). The MSSM is a very attractive model in many ways, but it does not address the question of why the electroweak scale is much smaller than the Planck scale to begin with—this is the so-called mu problem.

“Interestingly, the Next-to-Minimal Supersymmetric Standard Model (NMSSM) solves this problem by adding a set of two particles to the MSSM in such a way that the electroweak scale can be naturally small. The NMSSM has been extensively studied in the literature and has many other interesting features. It is therefore a well-motivated model.”

Although physicists need to be careful before discarding an old model and confirming a new model. I do not have that restriction. I am willing to start favoring the NMSSM model now and if the evidence starts looking could for confirmation was still looking good in 2008 would be willing to bet that is way it will break.

March 05, 2007

Solar sail progress is difficult to assess

Different materials for solar sails with wide variation in capability are all in development. The lighter the sail then the faster it will accelerate.
This link has a table which shows the different speeds possible with different accelerations.

The carbon nanotube sail has the highest potential. 1 square kilometer 30 kg or 0.03 grams per square meter

Other work is for rudimentary metal sail with low size (70 square meter sail) and high weight (thus low performance with 20 g per square meter.)

Size and weight make a huge difference in performance.

From 2000 there was what seemed like a promising and simple approach.

Thicker carbon but still 5 grams per square meter

The New Energy systems material is now 3 grams per square meter. The New Energy system material has the advantage of being stiffer and able to support itself and hold a shape.

If you have a nanofactory or anything close that means the top end of the carbon nanotube solar sail performance should fall out as a precursor capabilitity.

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